Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: She Said (2022)

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Movie Review: She Said (2022)

by Tony Dayoub

The opening scenes in She Said, Maria Schrader's new movie about the media coverage that first addressed Hollywood's colossal #metoo problem, spend a considerable amount of time introducing us to the New York Times reporters at the center of the film, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan). It contextualizes each of them within their respective family dynamics and contrasts their identities with respect to family life. There's Twoheythe WASP-y career-driven new mother contending with post-partum depressionand Kantorthe more family-oriented mom juggling her work, supervising kids' homework, and marriage while trying to maintain Jewish family traditions. It's not unusual for a movie to telescope their character's background details succinctly in order to get to the central themes, namely how these two women's distinctive backgrounds are the stage for the pervasive societal sexism they are exposing with their reporting.

The problem is more in how much weight is initially given to what turn out to be red herrings within the broader scope of She Said. Director Schrader's choice to foreground these character elements in the early goings of the film appears to serve two purposes. One is to set us up for each reporter to have some kind of personal reckoning with the story they are reporting, the sexual harassment of women in the film industry by Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein. For more attentive viewers the other, meta-purpose is to establish the parallels between Twohey & Kantor and another pair of intrepid cinematic reporters, Woodward & Bernstein in All the President's Men. Like in that film, much is made of the odd couple dynamic between the austere, maybe even brittle, emotional vacancy of Mulligan's Twoheyresembling the earlier movie's depiction of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford)and the warmer, more approachable earthiness of Kantorin line with Dustin Hoffman's performance as Carl Bernstein. She Said also throws in a shadowy Deep Throat-like figure in the form of Zach Grenierone with a propensity for meeting at fine dining establishments instead of murkily-lit parking garagesto further put one in President's conspiratorial frame of mind. Schrader even made an effort to shoot in the real offices of the New York Times, framing her shots so as to recall the imagery of the rows and rows of fluorescent lights of President's equally iconic Washington Post offices. But to what end?

If the only reason to foreground Kantor and Twohey's personal lives is to trigger impressions of a classic and much better executed thriller about reporters exposing corruption and grossly awful behavior, that would seem to be incredibly reductive. At no point in She Said does one feel like the circle is ever closed on how each of these women is personally impacted by the horrific stories of sexual abuse they uncover. I mean, there is one scene when Kazan's Kantor has a good cry in a hotel room after a Skype call checking in with her young daughter, who confesses she is mature enough to figure out that her mom is working on a story concerning rape. But is that it? That most viewers will feel the outrage when one encounters the emotional fallout of a fundamental violation to one's personhood is a given, whether this message is delivered by a scene depicting a child's loss of innocence or many scenes showing the destruction of multiple grown women's career prospects for speaking up about Weinstein's criminal-level, immoral acts. She Said's story failing is in only making Kantor and Twohey the vehicles that deliver this well-trodden #metoo storystill playing out in the pressand not showing us how deeply the two women are personally affected by such harassment, perhaps even in their own workplace. The New York Times is reverentially treated as an oasis of equality and respect in the midst of a society that is fundamentally stacked against women.

The brief moments of bravery are delivered by actors Ashley Judd, playing herself onscreen, and Gwyneth Paltrow, providing her own voice from offscreen, as they recount their own personal stories of abuse at the hands of Weinstein. They are illustrative of the fact that even movie stars of some prestige are not immune to the terrifying diminution of one's self-worth when a man of awesome industry power decides to misuse it. It is during Judd and Paltrow's scenes that one can feel how much stronger She Said could have been.

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